Once again, we in Israel are thrown into a collective period of mourning, horrified at the pictures we’ve seen and utterly dumbstruck by the callous and depraved indifference for human life exhibited by our enemies. Many wonder, how do people of faith react to these acts of terror in Israel? How do we hold their enormity while professing an unstinting belief in a loving and compassionate God?
For many, these acts of terror on Jewish soil present a huge challenge to faith, and people ask themselves, ”Who needs a God like this?” while others collect each act of terror as evidence that there is no God at all. Yet others look for ways to remain steadfast in their emunah (faith) while not diminishing the horrific nature of what we experience much too often lately.
I’ve gathered some thoughts about faith in the face of calamity and share them with you. All or some may resonate with you, while it’s quite possible that none of them will be satisfying. Before I begin, we all join together in mourning for those who were murdered, ask God to heal those who were wounded, and pray for the comfort and consolation of the unfortunate widows, orphans, relatives and friends of those who died “al Kiddush Hashem,” whose lives in this world were brutally ended yet whose souls we feel are guaranteed immediate eternity.
1. We continue saying Tehillim, Psalms, and dedicating our prayers and learning and good deeds to support the souls of the deceased, the healing of the wounded, and to reinforce our faith that all of God’s actions have a purpose, even while their intentions remain mysterious.
2. The buzz among our great Rabbis and teachers is that today, we are very close to Messianic days, one sign of which is acute chutzpah in the world. When we see the new kinds of terror leveled against Israelis – murders of teens, tractor killings, light rail murders, traffic terror, screwdriver slayings, synagogue pogroms – we may be seeing, right in front of our eyes, an acceleration of God’s plan. Further, when we see how the world’s media defame us and lie about our intentions and get away with it, this chutzpah takes on another dimension. So, as we mourn and pray and are aghast at what continues to happen, there may be a parallel spiritual agenda that is being hastened at this time.
3. There is a teaching that the closer we get to Messianic days, the more God will test our faith and see whose emunah will remain steadfast and who will fall off the bucking bronco (my imagery). These are called “Chevlei Mashiach,” the birth pangs leading to Mashiach, the hard labor before the birth of a new epoch in Jewish history and existence. One image is God shaking the huge blanket over and over again to see who will cling to it (having faith even during crisis) and who will fall from it (convinced that the horrors of life indicate chaos and no God). So, says the teaching, as we are on the brink of Mashiach, God will test us to see who is with Him and who isn’t. We can be saddened, perhaps scared, that this winnowing involves the taking of precious lives, while, as above, there may be a parallel spiritual agenda that God is accelerating at this time in Jewish history.
4. It is valuable for us to let the effects of terror impact us more deeply. One neighbor wrote a Facebook post and asked people to STOP! what they were doing and think about the families, saying if we continued reading the rest of her post, we haven’t STOPPED! It doesn’t mean to wallow in misery and depression for the next several days; rather, to stop and think about the lives that were cut short, to think of the unimaginable panic and shock in that synagogue in Har Nof, to think of the wives and children and grandchildren and relatives and neighbors and friends and students and all those whose lives will have a huge missing piece due to terror. Think of the teachings, the good deeds, the voices of Torah and ethics that came into this world because of the ennobled lives of those mercilessly massacred. Stop and ponder, meditate and turn over in your mind what their lives, and deaths, mean.
5. With these increased acts of terror, horrific and calculated, God is perhaps giving us a gift: clarity. It is becoming clearer by the day, and act, that we cannot afford any more fantasies about appeasing our enemies. Their design and intent only gets clearer with each gross act of murder, while our enemies revel and cheer and pass out candies to celebrate yet another Jew eliminated. This clarity, if absorbed, can urgently move us to effectively keep us safer with God’s help. This clarity can bring us to effective measures to keep ourselves more secure in our homeland.
6. While there are some whose faith in God tends to falter in the face of terror, and I suspect deep in many hearts, including mine, there are screams of “How can God allow this to happen?” I know I’m only sitting in the bleacher seats while the suffering families are directly on the field of battling with their spiritual bearings. Perhaps we can look at the families themselves, and hear what they are saying about God and how He runs the world, and let them lead. Many of the statements of the mothers of the three boys murdered during the summer were impeccable statements of faith and trust in God, affirming their confidence that God has a purpose and a plan with often mysterious ways, and that He remains at the very core of their lives even in the face of tragedy. We can take our cues about God coming from the mouths of the faithful who are tested in ways none of us would welcome.
7. This recent terror was perpetrated in a synagogue filled with worshippers whose purpose in being there was to praise God and honor Him with gratitude and appreciation. While it’s impossible to know of God’s purpose, perhaps we can draw a renewed commitment to prayer in general and to worship in a synagogue more often. I don’t dare make the connection that if we prayed more often in a synagogue as a Jewish people that lives would have been spared. I do suggest, however, that given the location and activity in the synagogue, we may draw some message for enhancing our Jewish lives in some way.
8. Scream for God’s help. I was once in a public pool when the wave machine was turned on to make it more fun. It may have been so for others, but the waves it created were over my head and I couldn’t get my bearings and I began to gag and choke. I begged for others to help but they didn’t hear me. In frustration, in the loudest voice I have ever used, I screamed “HELP!!!” Immediately the wave machine was disengaged, all was calm, and the panic was over. If not for that primordial scream, I doubt I would be writing this. You may feel uncomfortable to scream in the synagogue or in public for God to save us, rescue us, stop the slaughter, bring Messianic days, and eliminate our enemies. Or you may feel more comfortable to scream in your car, when you’re alone, in the shower when no one is home, in the woods. Perhaps when we contemplate that even with all of His messengers there is no one but God to rescue us, and we scream and beg for his liberation like I did while nearly drowning, the wave machine will be turned off, and calm waters will bless our daily lives.
9. Continue to live life, not as if nothing happened, but in spite of it. Be careful and aware, and keep doing what you were doing. Our enemies have two goals: to eliminate us, and if they can’t do that, to intimidate us and break our spirit and “simchat ha-chaim,” our joy and enthusiasm for life and appreciation of God’s blessings. Just as the worshippers in Har Nof have gone back to their synagogue for services, perhaps we can draw strength from them and get back into our routines, living life as normally as we can. More cautious and vigilant as a gift of our clarity, but uncowered, dignified, and confident.
10. Living in Israel is a huge blessing and privilege, and even though there are occasional thorns that cause discomfort, pain and even blood, the roses of living life in Israel and being on the center stage of Jewish history at this time can help keep things in perspective. With all the venom our enemies can muster, with any and every evil deed at their disposal, even with gross acts of violence that shock us and bring us unbearable grief and suffering, we live in a proud, productive, and blessed Jewish homeland with nearly seven million Jews. God continue to bless this country, and accelerate Messianic days in our lifetime. God grant strength to His people, and bless us with peace.